BASIC BUDDHISM

Whatever the school or sect or approach, Buddhism is based on a few principles. These principles can be quite satisfying intellectually. They can seem to make pretty good common sense. But the principles of Buddhism are not aimed at satisfying the intellect so much. They are aimed at offering people a way to lead a happier and more peaceful life. To be happier and more peaceful is not an intellectual matter. It is a matter of experience.

The principles or suggestions or observations that Buddhism makes are these: First, all things change. Because all things change always, the person called "I" or "me" is constantly changing too. In fact there is no such thing as an abiding "I" or "me." There is only change. While this observation may make good intellectual sense, it can be pretty upsetting. If a whole life has been devoted to creating a sense of who "I" am, then realizing "I" am a figment of imagination . . . whoa mama! If I am not "I," then who am I?

The fact that everything changes means that individuals are nudged by doubt. What was good becomes bad, what was happy becomes sad, what was true becomes false, what was birth becomes death, what was love becomes anger, what was rich becomes impoverished. The pendulum swings back and forth. Whatever its joys and sorrows, this life can be pretty uncertain. The uncertainty and doubt that change can seem to create are called suffering by Buddhists.

Shakyamuni Buddha (he's the one people generally mean when they say "the Buddha") addressed suffering by making observations and suggestions that form another of the principles that underlie all schools of Buddhism. These observations are called The Four Noble Truths.

The Four Noble Truths are: There is suffering (anxiety/uncertainty/doubt). There is a cause of suffering. There is an end to suffering. There is a way to end suffering.

Thus, all schools of Buddhism, whatever the sect, subscribe to the notions that all things change and The Four Noble Truths. These two suggest that first there is observation and second there is a framework (Buddhism) within which to rethink that observation.

Up to this point, things can remain intellectual, or belief-oriented. This realm may form the basis for a lot of good discussions. They are food for thought. But food for thought is different from experience, different from actually leading a happier and more peaceful life. So there is another element that all Buddhist schools subscribe to. This is called the Eightfold Path and refers to the last of The Four Noble Truths (a way to end suffering).

The Eightfold Path is sometimes described this way: Right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

The word "right" can sometimes suggest - particularly in cultures woven with Christianity - a sense of "wrong" or "bad" or something similar. Perhaps the word "complete" would be a little easier to swallow from the point of view of someone whose life seems to lack completeness. Buddhism is not a threat-based process. You won't go to heaven if you decide to practice and you won't go to hell if you don't. Buddhism merely points out facts and makes suggestions based on those facts.

The Eightfold Path points out ways to put what has been observed and reflected upon into action. These are practical suggestions as outlined by practical men and women. Like the parent who instructs a child about how to ride a bike, the Eightfold Path suggests ways in which to actually experience a happier and more peaceful life.

Perhaps the most arresting facet of Buddhism (when seen from the outside) is the meditation it encourages. By ordinary standards, it may look weird or holy or masochistic or self-centered . . . a world of belly-button lint and foreign languages. But meditation is just a tool for experience. Without experience, things remain intellectual, incomplete, and limited. What is limited will always contain a doubt. Meditation offers a way to dispel doubt. There are other tools as well, as the Eightfold Path points out, but meditation is also suggested.

So, these are the basics of Buddhism: Observation, reflection, action; pay attention and take responsibility. On top of such basics, there are schools and sects, temples and uniforms, texts and talks, rituals and rites. Buddhism does not exist in order to enlarge or improve or adorn some fantasy called "Buddhism." It is just a human world and as such has its successes and flops. But there is one thing remains constant throughout - your own unlimited, and peaceful life.

I wish you the best.